On June 12, the City of Cleveland entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the city’s Division of Police, which has a history of racist and abusive policing. While the consent decree was welcomed by the local civil rights and civil liberties community, some shortcomings were identified. On Monday, the NAACP, Collaboration for a Safe, Fair, and Just Cleveland, and the Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild filed a “friend of the court” brief to make recommendations to improve the agreement.
“We are filing the brief because there are some key areas where the decree has unworkable stipulations that must be remedied to ensure the best chance of truly effective and lasting police reforms that will satisfy the people of Cleveland,” said civil rights attorney James Hardiman, co-chair of the Criminal Justice Legal Redress Committee of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP. “As civil rights organizations, we represent stakeholders who want to ensure that the consent decree best protects the interests of aggrieved communities and that it is as strong as possible,” said Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams, Chair of the Collaborative for a Safe, Fair, and Just Cleveland. “We want the Court to know that without these key fixes, the community will be negatively impacted.” Cleveland.com’s Eric Heisig explains the specific recommendations the group is calling for:
The newly-created inspector general should not report to the police chief. Under the consent decree, the police inspector general will review the work officers do to ensure that procedures are being followed. The position, which will be filled by the mayor with a non-officer, is designed as another check on the system. The problem, the group says, is that the inspector general will be overseen by the police chief. The inspector general should instead report to the mayor and City Council, according to the brief. “No citizen should wind up having a job where their job is to criticize their boss in painstaking detail and still expect that they’re necessarily going to get a nice performance evaluation and salary adjustment at the end of the year,” Chandra said.
The most serious use-of-force incidents should be investigated by an outside agency. The group also says that use-of-force cases that result in death or serious bodily injury should always be investigated by outside agencies, such as the state Attorney General’s Office. It also says the police should not have a say in who investigates the case.
The police should require officers to consistently collect demographic data. The group claims that the settlement’s bias-free policing goals do not go far enough. Police investigators will be required to collect information such as the race or gender of citizens and suspects only in certain situations rather than in all cases.
A provision should be added to address police interaction with juveniles. The group says the consent decree does not go far enough to specifically protect juveniles, though the Justice Department outlined several incidents where officers used excessive force against youths. The brief states the consent decree should require the police to create a policy to govern police-youth interactions.
The Community Police Commission has serious problems. The brief says that the Community Police Commission, a panel designed to make recommendations to improve relations between officers and citizens, has “issues that will hinder the Commission’s ability to carry out its responsibilities and achieve its mission.” The commission should have a direct access to the judge overseeing compliance with the consent decree so it can point out problems, the brief states, and should include representatives from other groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender advocates as well as the recently incarcerated and immigrants. The brief also states that the consent decree should establish a baseline budget to ensure the commission has the resources it needs, and should also allow the commission to hire its own staff and experts.
The monitor should be allowed to testify in litigation relating to the consent decree. The consent decree specifically says members of a monitoring team overseeing compliance with the consent decree cannot not testify in investigations or litigation pertaining to any perceived wrongdoing or violations of the consent decree. The brief says the monitor will be the one who has the most sufficient knowledge of the decree and that a blanket ban should not be allowed.